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Jane Brunner > An interview with Oakland City Councilwoman Jane Brunner

From Rockridge News, which really needs to be in blog form.

An interview with City Councilwoman Jane Brunner
by Stuart Flashman, RCPC boardmember,
and member, RCPC Planning and
Project Review Committee

In 1998, the city of Oakland updated itsGeneral Plan, the fundamental document defining the city’s land use patterns. Almost
10 years later, the city has not yet revised all of its zoning ordinance to fit with what the General Plan says. The Rockridge News talked to Jane Brunner, city councilwoman for North Oakland, about this zoning upd a t e process and what
it might mean for Rockridge.

Councilwoman Brunner will be an invited speaker at the RCPC’s October 18 General Meeting on the topic of the Rockridge/
Temescal Zoning Update and the future of Rockridge. Rockridge News: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about zoning in Rockridge and Temescal. Let’s start with a simple question – what is zoning about?

Jane Brunner: Zoning really is taking a look at how many housing units, what the density is going to be in the area, how
high the building needs to be in the area, what kind of design review, and different things like that.

RN : So, essentially it’s looking at whatought to be happening in the future for land use in the area.

JB: Right. Right now you have the General Plan. That has very broad statements, like we want building to occur along the
major [transportation] corridors, and we want density along the major corridors.

And then you have zoning which says, on Telegraph Avenue, for example, that there should only be a maximum of three or four stories. And they contradict each other. So what the Planning Commission has done is follow the General Plan and give variances to some new construction. So what we’ve been trying to do for the last year is have a dialogue about what exactly the General Plan is saying and what exactly is the zoning that the city is going to propose — the city being [Planning Director] Claudia Cappio and the Planning Division, having talked to developers and talked to neighbors.

RN : This is a bit of an aside, but why did it take ten years for the city to get around to doing the zoning update?

JB: The main reason is that the mayor at the time gave direction to the planning staff to work on major development projects and not to take time to do the rezoning. The City Council, and particularly [Councilman] Henry Chang, has been asking for
eight years to do the rezoning. Since there wasn’t that much development going on in North Oakland, it wasn’t until the development really started about a year ago that it became clear, in North Oakland, how important it was to do the rezoning.

RN : So what does happen now in North Oakland, when a development project is proposed and the zoning says one thing,
but the General Plan says something different?

JB: Well, that is what I was explaining before: what has been happening is the Planning Commission that we have, that
was put in by Mayor Brown, has generally used the fact that the General Plan says to do major development along major corridors to say that the General Plan gives them the right to approve these various developments regardless of the zoning.
That’s why I asked, a year ago, to start the zoning update on Telegraph and Broadway – two areas where we’re starting to see big development.

RN : So if the zoning isn’t being followed, then there’s no guidance about what should be approved.

JB: Right. There’s ambiguity; so you’re left with whoever happens to be at the Planning Commission and the City Council at
the time. The Planning Commission has been clearly stating, “We want development along the major corridors,” and that
means height. They believe that is where it belongs.

RN : Do you think the zoning for Rockridge will change with this zoning update?

JB: I don’t believe that the majority of Rockridge is going to change at all. Nobody has talked to me about changing the zoning for College Avenue.

RN : How about Claremont Avenue?

JB: Claremont, only going up a little from Telegraph, and that became part of the Temescal zoning discussion; and I know
that you consider that part of Rockridge.

RN : Right now, the General Plan shows all of Claremont being residential, and I understand that the current zoning update
proposal would change that.

JB: When we started the Telegraph zoning project, we did not really discuss Claremont= very much, and then [when] we got
the proposal from staff, they had added Claremont.

RN : Was there a rationale for adding that in?

JB: You really ought to ask staff about that, but what I recall is that it had to do with the connection to Telegraph Avenue, the
width of the street, the types of businesses there now, those kind of things.

RN : What about the upper segment of Broadway, above College Avenue?

JB: Upper Broadway is currently residential and consistent with the General Plan, so there’s no need to make changes.

RN : There has been a lot of talk about “smart growth,” and there are a fair number of people in the Rockridge/Temescal area
who believe that we should be pushing for higher density in the area.

JB: Yes, there are, and it’s split, actually. It’s interesting, because I hear from both sides. There are a lot of young people in
the Temescal area, and their argument is that they can’t afford houses; they’re going to have to live in condos, and they believe that in order to live in our neighborhood we need to have more building, and they don’t mind the height. And then there are other people who’ve lived there much longer, who live in single-family homes and are concerned about how high the buildings on Telegraph are going to be. I think the debate is between people who want to see four stories max and those
who want to see heights up to five stories with a setback, or maybe even six stories, and that’s the discussion.

RN : I think that in the back of many people’s mind, when they think about all this extra density, is the traffic issue:
whether the streets can handle all the traffic if you build up all this density. Is the city thinking about this at all?'

JB: The city is, and I haven’t heard yet what the proposal will be from the city about dealing with the cumulative effect of all
these projects; and that could be good or bad. The good thing is they’ll do a traffic study and take whatever actions need to
be done to address traffic problems. But that may also mean that we don’t redo our zoning until the study is done, which could mean another year or two in the meantime with no rules.

RN : I take it from all this that you feel the zoning update is pretty important.

JB: I basically think that what’s needed from all of us is that we really need to finish doing the zoning because I think this deciding it project by project is very contentious and is not helping to bring the neighborhood together. So I am concerned that we get the zoning done as fast as possible, so that we can have rules and guidelines and so the Planning Commission knows, “These are the rules and guidelines.”

RN : Any final thoughts about the future of land use in Rockridge?

JB: You know, every once in awhile, developers come and say, “You know, the Rockridge BART Station – we really should
develop that.” Basically, my answer is, “People are pretty happy with the Rockridge BART Station.” It is the model that is used
nationally; whenever there is one of these big conferences about transit villages, they point to Rockridge as an example.
Rockridge happened naturally, so you have to be very careful if you’re going to change it. On the other hand, in Temescal,
the MacArthur BART could really use a transit village, and I’m really excited that that’s what we’re doing there. We have a
private developer, it’s going to be a major development, and it’s very exciting.
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